Kentucky has had a formula for losing so far this year, and it completely correlates to rebounding. In all of their losses coming into today, they had given up at least seven offensive rebounds and either lost the rebounding total battle or pushed.
In the first eight minutes of today’s game, they gave up five offensive boards and appeared to be speeding toward a loss on the eve of Selection Sunday as they were down 17-7. Thanks to a reset by Coach Cal and a change in attitude, UK started playing better D and attacked the rim to go on an 11-0 run to eliminate the first eight minutes of mediocrity.
The ‘Cats appeared to be on their way to a comfortable win as they kept ‘Bama off the glass and all of a sudden Malik Monk turned into Malik Monk and scored eight points in about two minutes.
Then the ‘Cats went cold and allowed the Tide to hang around to the tune of a 33-32 lead at the half and some minor foul trouble (Fox and Briscoe with 2 each) for Big Blue.
The Second Half started much like the first half with Kentucky forgetting to bring their effort out of the locker room. Malik Monk dropped a few bricks, and the ‘Cats gave up some easy buckets to find themselves in a hole again, albeit a small one.
Behind some great play by De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk with some and-1s the ‘Cats seemed to be pulling away with a 9-point lead at the under 12-minute mark.
However, Alabama is a well-coached team, and they did not give up. The scrappy Tide pulled back into the game and Kentucky was the recipient of an unforgiving whistle, and the game was 62-61 UK with just five minutes left.
The foul comes on the spin move??? pic.twitter.com/i29cRxvwTT— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 11, 2017
No foul. pic.twitter.com/krFdReWRtp— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 11, 2017
The final four minutes saw the De’Aaron Fox show come into prime time as he absolutely willed UK down the stretch; on defense and offense. A filthy John Wall-esque and 1 for Fox plus a 16-footer to stretch the lead to 6 with two minutes left was the deciding factor in the ‘Cats gritty win.
The De'Aaron Fox Takeover has begun. pic.twitter.com/mNfZQi9d6a— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 11, 2017
De'Aaron Fox with a consistent jumper should scare the bejesus out of everyone. pic.twitter.com/nEqupjZBre— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 11, 2017
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW
#1 - Kentucky has a strong argument for a 1-seed
As you will see below, Kentucky should be in a strong position for a 1-seed tomorrow. Inexplicably there is very little discussion for them in that realm. It has been an odd season in that the national media has seemingly decided it was the chic thing to disregard UK as a title contender. That is now manifesting itself as the talking heads spew their March Madness prognostications.
You will see below, that UK has a better resume than Kansas and they have a very similar one to UNC and beat the Tar Heels on a neutral court. Had UK beat Kansas, it would be a no-brainer for UK over Kansas as a #1.
#2 - Calipari Needs to Utilize the Press More
One of the underrated pieces of this team has been their ability to effective in the 3⁄4 court press. Multiple times this season it has been THE spark that got UK from a deepening hole to a spurt to regain control.
With UK down 10, Cal put it on a few times and we saw the pressure get to Alabama and spur that 19-3 run to regain control.
They also immediately caused a turnover the moment they went to it in the second half.
I think Cal needs to utilize it in the NCAA tourney on a more proactive basis than a reactive one.
#3 - We ARE Seeing De’Aaron Fox Evolve into a Complete Point Guard
Through February, De’Aaron Fox was 10 for 53 (19%) from three point range. As soon as the calendar turned to March, De’Aaron Fox decided it was time to improve, and now he has become a threat to hit a three instead of a liability.
Since starting the season 10 for 53, he has shot 6 for 11; for a blistering 55%. Fox is going to be the reason UK has a chance at a Final 4 berth or an early disappointment, and seeing him evolve into a shooting threat is bad news for the rest of America.
De'Aaron Fox. Lord have mercy. pic.twitter.com/nTR6Vr1Uit— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 11, 2017
How freaking good is this by De'Aaron Fox? pic.twitter.com/Oez0cnJPLN— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 11, 2017
#4 - A Different Kind of March Madness at the Free Throw Line?
Kentucky has been a very solid team at the charity stripe all season... up until March. For some reason, UK has struggled since going to College Station where they shot 12 for 18. The ‘Cats followed that up with a 20 for 33 effort yesterday against Georgia. Today Kentucky was putrid from the line the first 30 minutes, but a strong flurry finished them at a respectable 27 of 39 (6 for 10 for Monk).
We, and Calipari in particular, know how free throws can cost you in the postseason and Calipari needs to get them back on track ASAP. Part of it could be attributed to not having a shoot around. He did not have one at A&M and did not have any during the SEC tournament.
#5 - We Are Getting Close to Legit Malik Monk Shooting Slump Worry Time
Malik Monk has been the picture of consistency all season, scoring in double figures every game until the season finale. Although he was not consistent during the game sometimes, you could always count on him to explode at some point.
After two very mediocre performances against A&M and Georgia, Monk took some necessary steps to insure he was going to be ‘back’ against Alabama. He was out at 8 AM by himself shooting to get his stroke back.
At first, it seemed he was in deed back as he dropped a beautiful step back jumper and a few threes, but then it went cold as he bricked two free throws and seemed to be aiming every shot the rest of the way as he shot brick after brick.
He ended up with a solid finish and good numbers, but he is not quite ‘Back’ as we need him to be. To Monk’s credit, he did start driving to the basket to get his production vs. hanging out on the perimeter. That alone is a HUGE growth moment for Monk.
It is my opinion that Monk is in his own head, and for a shooter, that is the absolute worst thing that can happen. Remember the postseason slumps of Jamal Murray, and Devin Booker?
Monk got stretched, resumed shooting, bricked six straight and then just walked away, straight to the locker room. Everyone else shooting.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) March 11, 2017
Gotta wonder at this point if he's just psyched himself out. https://t.co/KGYtmOoOZD— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) March 11, 2017
Kentucky cannot have an average or mediocre (by his standards) Monk and expect to get any further than a Sweet 16. Here is to hoping that he finds a way out of his head and just plays his game going forward.